Small Farming Systems in
Las Cuevas Watershed, Dominican Republic
Food and Resource Econ. Dept., Univ. of Florida, B. Glade, FL
Food and Resource Econ. Dept.,Univ. of Florida, Gainesville,FL
and J.A. Nova
State Secretariat of Agric., Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Farming systems in the watershed are described. Data were
gathered by a multi-disciplinary team during the summer
of 1982. Sample size was 182. Farming systems identified were (1)
irrigated with a rice base, (2) rainfed with an annual crop
base and minor permanent crops, and 3) predominantly coffee farms
which were not studied in detail. Irrigated farming systems
consisted of sole crops of beans, peanuts and maize in addition to
rice. Rainfed systems consisted of both sole crops and crop
mixtures of beans, maize and pigeon peas. Predominant crop
mixtures are beans-maize, beans-pigeon peas, and beans-pigeon
peas-maize. Peanuts are predominantly sole cropped. Unique to
these systems are: 1) the "convite" system -a social form of
labor sharing for harvest; 2) bean trading between rainfed and
irrigated systems to maintain fresh seed; 3) peanuts to provide
cash, available as a loan from the processing plant. Rainfed
systems and increasing population pressures subject the watershed
to high rates of soil erosion and resulting siltation downstream.
Keywords:Farming systems;Crop systems;Crop associations;"Convite"
Most islands in the Caribbean are experiencing ecological
problems of uncommon magnitude. Small territories and population
pressures are pushing farmers to marginally productive
steeplands. The Dominican Republic is no exception. Antonini et
al. (1981) have summarized the problem in the following manner:
The Dominican Republic today is faced with serious
problems of erosion due to the widespread practice
of slash-and-burn agriculture and the prevalence of
shallow soils on steep slopes. Substantial amounts
of top soil are lost due to poor management prac-
tices and there results greatly reduced soil fer-
tility and crop productivity...As a consequence of
increasing population pressure and a depleting re-
source base, the farm-pasture-fallow cycle is rap-
idly being shortened, the land's capability for
sustained productivity is diminishing, and increas-
ingly more marginal lands are being brought under
cultivation and extensive use. The results of this
deterioration of the Dominican steeplands is af-
fecting not only farmers within the high water-
sheds, but it is also influencing the government's
ability to develop and maintain water resources for
meeting energy, agricultural and human needs (p. 4).
Solving these problems is no easy task. But it seems obvious
that knowing the resources and farming practices prevalent in
these areas provides a good starting point for developing
conservation policies. For that reason, this paper describes
the farming systems in Las Cuevas watershed of the Du.,Ii .-.
The results reported are part of a multi-disciplinary
research effort sponsored by the State Secretariat of Agricultur-
of the Dominican Republic, the Association of Caribbean
Universities & Research Institutes, and the University of
Florida. The final objective of this inter-inutititutional
agreement was to develop an integrated management and protection
plan for Las Cuevas watershed.
The Study Region
Las Cuevas watershed is located on the southwestern flank
of the Cordillera Central and covers approximately 600 km
Antonini et al. (1981, pp. 16-19) have described some of the
region's most important characteristics.
More than 80% of the watershed is mountainous with elevations
ranging between 2,200 and 2,800 m. Plateaus and interior lowlands
account for about 13%, while the rest of the area consists of
flood plains and river terraces.
Dry subtropical conditions prevail in the western-most
portion where the average temperature is 24.5 C and the mean
annual rainfall is about 750 mm. These conditions ey4-. in 12%
of the total area. A wet subtropical life zone covers 15% of the
basin, with more humid conditions but still irregular rainfall
distribution. Some 52% of the area is characterized by low
montane wet forest, with irregular rainfall and periodic frosts.
The very wet low forest accounts for 18% of the area, where mean
annual precipitation is 55% higher than evapu~s, a...ration.
Finally, 3% of the watershed is very wet montane forest in the
eastern portion, with average temperatures of 17.7 C and mean
annual precipitation of 1,750 mm. Frosts are more fre-qent and
average rainfall exceeds evapotranspiration by 60%.
The population of the watershed is 85% rural and 15% urban.
Population estimates for 1981 were 39,411 inhabitants with an
average density of65 persons per km2. The population is expected
average density of 65 persons per km The population is expected
to double by the year 2,000.
About 7,000 families live in the study region. More than
half live in small rural settlements (100 to 2,500 persons) in
the hills or along the terraces and flood plains adjoining the
Las Cuevas river and its tributaries. The greatest number of
families live in isolated hamlets and small agricultural
villages. One road connects these villages with Padre Las Casas,
the only urban center in the area, and most interconnecting dirt
trails become impassable during the rainy season.
Materials and methods
The study area was visited by a multi-disciplinary group in
March 1982. All members were placed on small teams and a type of
"sondeo" following Hildebrand (1981) was conduct-ed. The results
of this visit provided valuable input for developing a
questionnaire which was pre-tested near the end of June. Once
the questionnaire was redesigned, the final interviews were
conducted during the month of July.
The relevant population used was 5,609 households existing
in Las Cuevas watershed according to the 198 population census.
Systematic sampling methods as outlined b; Mendenhall et al.
(1971) were used to draw the sample size. The key variable in the
design was the level of household income and accuracy of the
systematic sample was based on the assumption of random household
income and the advantages of systematic sampling in the field
work (Mendenhall et al., 1971). From tne total population of
5,609 households,. a sample of 286 was selected. Because the
survey was multipurpose, 104 sampled households did not operate
any agricultural enterprise. Thus, the final sample for this study
included 182 agricultural households.
For the purpose of this analysis, relevant classification
criteria were needed. Ruthenberg (1980) has outlined this need
In the process of adopting cropping patterns
and farming techniques to the natural, economic
and socio-political conditions of each location
and the aims of the farmers, more or less dis-
tinct farm systems have developed. In fact, no
farm is organized exactly like any other, but
farms producing under similar natural, economic
and socio-institutional conditions tend to be
similarly structured. For the purpose of agri-
cultural development, and to devise meaningful
measures in agricultural policy, it is advisa-
ble to group farms with similar structural
properties into classes. It is important in
this context that relevant r1 '- rication cri-
teria are used and no single criterion allows
the formation of meaningful classes (p. 14).
The cropping patterns and farming systems found in the
watershed were analyzed by clustering the most important crops of
the watershed with homogeneous technology and characteristics. The
classification was based on relevant factors such as irrigated
and rainfed land, type of land preparation, type of planting,
level of input usage, yields and crop cycles.
The final classification of the farming systems included:
(a) short-cycle sole crop systems on irrigated land (beans, rice,
peanuts and maize) or on rainfed land (beans, maize, pigeon peas
and peanuts); (b) short-cycle crop mixtures on rainfed land
(beans-maize, beans-pigeon peas and beans-pigeon peas-maize); (c)
permanent sole crop system (coffee); and (d) permanent crop
mixture system (coffee-bananas).
Results and discussion
Both large and small farms are found throughout the watershed
although half of them contain 3 ha or less land. Excluding the
nine largest farms with 64% of the area, average farm size is
about 5 ha. Slightly over half th farms had only one parcel; the
others were divided into two or three parcels (Table 1). Half the
land area is in pasture, forest or bush and only 10% is in annual
(short season) crops (Table 2).
Coffee is the most important crop and is sole cropped on 675
ha (Table 3). It is associated with bananas on another 71 ha and
with a mixture of other crops ,i A i... Rice and peanuts are only
sole cropped, 78% of the beans are sole cropped but only 18% of
the maize and 10% of tne pigeon peas are grown alone (Table 4).
The most important annual crop associations are bean-pigeon pea,
bean-pigeon pea-maize and bean-maize (Table 5).
Although four major types of farming systems emerged from the
classification, this paper io concerned mainly with short-cycle
sole and associated crop systems on irrigated and on rainfed
Table 1 Land distribution by number of parcels on each farm and percentage
of total area in Las Cuevas watershed, Dominican Republic, 1982
Farms Total area
parcels Number Percentage Ha. Percentage
1 100 55.0 941 36.1
2 67 36.8 967 37.1
3 15 8.2 697 26.8
Total 182 100.0 2605 100.0
Table 2 Land uses found in the 182 surveyed farms in Las Cuevas watershed,
Dominican Republic, 1982
Classification Area (ha) of total
Short-cycle crops 255 9.8
Permanent crops (excluding
coffee and coffee-banana) 49 1.9
Coffee and coffee-banana 746 28.6
Fallow land 203 7.8
Pasture, forest or bush 1352 51.9
Total 2605 100.0
Table 3 Land use
by sole crop systems in the 182 surveyed farms in Las
Dominican Republic, 1982
Percentage of total
Crop Area (ha) Including coffee Excluding coffee
Rice 23 2.4 7.8
Beans 181 18.7 61.6
Peanut 18 1.8 6.1
Maize 7 0.7 2.4
Pigeon pea 5 0.5 1.7
Coffee 675 69.7
Other 60 6.2 20.4
Total 969 100.0 100.0
Table 4 Land use by crops grown alone and associated in the 182 surveyed
farms in Las Cuevas watershed, Dominican Republic, 1982
Area (ha) Percentage of crop
Crop Sole cropped Associated Sole cropped Associated
beans 181 51 78.0 22.0
Maize 7 31 18.4 81.6
Pigeon pea 5 43 10.4 89.6
Coffee 675 71 90.5 9.5
Table 5 Associations of beans, maize and pigeon pea in the 182 surveyed
farms in Las Cuevas watershed, Dominican Republic, 1982
Association Area (ha)
Bean-pigeon pea 17
Bean-pigeon pea-maize 16
Other bean associations 8
Other pigeon pea associations 10
Other maize associations 5
Total bean associations 51
Total pigeon pea associations 43
Total maize associations 31
land. The emphasis placed on these systems is related to soil
conservation concerns. Short-cycle crop systems require land
preparation one to three times a year. This permits soil erosion
when farming sloping land. Soil loss is minimal for permanent
crop systems which are prepared and planted only once over many
years. The following sections describe these farming systems.
Short-cycle sole crop systems on irrigated land
These systems are located on lowlands. The four crops
rotated include rice, beans, peanut and maize (Table 6).
Rice is planted once a year, maize and peanuts are planted
twice and beans three times. Land preparation is the same for the
four crops; with oxen and a plow. For 0.6 ha of rice, a nursery
bed of 10 m, where 45 kg of seed are broadcast, is prepared.
Rice transplanting by hand occurs one month after land
preparation. A seed drill with a mule is used to plant the other
three crops. Seed rates are about 73 kg ha1 for rice, between 73
and 87 kg ha- for beans and for peanuts and maize 73 and 22 kg
Fertilization practices are absent in peanut and maize.
However, from 145 to 363 kg ha" urea are applied twice to rice,
and urea or the formula 15-15-15 are used on beans at a rates
between 73 and 254 kg ha-
Weeding is done with machetes in all four crops. No
insecticides are applied to either rice or maize. Beans receive
an application of insecticide mixed with liquid N, while powdered
insecticide is applied once to peanuts.
Table 6 Characteristics of short-cycle sole crop systems on irrigated land in Las Cuevas watershed, Dominican Republic, 1982
Land Preparation Planting R Fertilization Weedin Harvesting
Rate 1 Rate feeding Yiel
Crop Rotation Time Means Time Means (kg ha ) Time Type (kg ha ) Time Means Pesticides Time (kg ha ) Marketing
Rice (R) B P Feb.- Oxen Apr.- Hand 73 May(1) Urea 145-363 May- Hand None Aug- 1450-3630 Local millers
with May June(1) Jun.(machete) Sep.
B(an (B) R B March Oxen Apr. Seed 73-87 May Urea 73-254 May Hand 1 applic. Jul) 72L-1452 Middlemen
Aug. with Sep. drill Oct. or Oct.(machete) of insect. Dec. at farm gate
Dec. plow Jan. with Feb. 15-15-15 Feb. mixed with March
Peanut(P) R B M March Oxen Apr. Seed 73 None May Hand 1 applic. July 544-1452 Processing
Aug. with Sep. drill Oct.(machete) of powdered Nov plant
plow with insect.
Maize (M) B P March Oxen Apr. Seed 22 None May Hand None July-
Aug. with Sep. drill Oct.(machete) Aug. 363-2250 Middlemen
p.ow with at farm gate
Harvesting dates vary among the four crops and wide yield
fluctuations are present. In the case of beans, most of the
farmers harvest by "convite". Under this system, the owner of
the farm prepares a large meal for the men, women and children
working in the harvest and no cash payment is involved. The
people are willing to provide their labor because they receive
the same help when they harvest their own crops. This is a system
exchange of labor
for mutual help among
and is carried out in a festive mood. The "convite" is also
practiced in other systems where beans are involved; i.e., beans
as sole crop and crop mixtures on rainfed land. Perhaps one
contributing factor is the more complex harvesting and packaging
process involved in bean harvesting. After being pulled by hand,
the dry plants are collected over a canvas and mules are passed
over them to thresh out the grains. Then the grains are cleaned
Marketing for beans and maize is through middlemen at the
on these lowland
access to roads
general. Rice is sold to local millers. All peanut production is
bought by "La Manicera", which is the only peanut processing
plant in the country. This company finances all peanut
production and deducts that money at harvest time. Farmers feel
that peanut production is not profitable but they plant this crop
as a means of obtaining cash from the loan to subsist during th:
period when they do not have another feasible choice.
Short-cycle sole crop systems on rained land
Table 7 shows that bean, maize, pigeon pea and peanut
are the main short-cycle sole crop systems grown on rainfed land.
With the exception of pigeon pea, which is grown only once a
year, crops can be planted twice each year. Land preparation
starts in March for all crops; the second time for bean, maize
and peanut is in August. It is performed by hand with a machete
in the case of pigeon pea, while an oxen with plow or a machete
are used for the other crops.
Planting occurs within a month after the land has been
prepared. All crops are planted by hand with a machete although
in some cases peanut planting is done with a seed drill and a
mule. Seed rates for bean, maize, pigeon pea and peanut are 73,
43, 14, and 80 kg ha respectively. Some of the farmers who
harvest beans in July-August provide bean seed to those who plant
in September with the agreement that when these farmers finish
their harvest in December, they will return an extra 50% of the
seed borrowed. Under this system, the farmers harvesting in July
and August conserve the germination quality of the seed and
obtain a 50% bonus. The farmers planting in September need no
cash for seed purchases.
The use of fertilizers and pesticides are not common.
Weeding is done during the same time of the year for all crops
and is performed with a machete. Yields are lower than those
obtained on irrigated land owing in part to the occurrrnre of
Marketing under these systems which are produced on the mor
accessible rainfed lands is very similar to that for irrigated
Table 7 Characteristics of short-cycle sole crop systems on rainfed land in Las Cuevas watershed, Dominican Republic, 1982
Planting Fertilization Harvesting
Land preparation Rate and Weeding Yield
Crop Rotation Time Means Time Means (kg ha- ) Pesticide Time Means Time (kg ha ) Marketing
Bean March Oxen w/plow or April Hand 73 Rarely May Hand July 167-725 Middlemen
Aug. hand (machete) Sept. (machete) used Oct. (machete) Dec. at farm gate
Maize March Oxen w/plow or April Hand 43 Rarely May-June Hand Aug.- 363-1183 Middlemen
Aug. hand machetec) Sep. (machete) used Oct-Nov.(machete) Sept. at farm gate
Pigeon pea March Hand April Hand 14 None May-June Hand Jan. 363-1088 Middlemenat
(machete) (machete) (machete) (for 2-3 farm gate or
months) in mules to
March Oxen w/plow or
Aug. hand (machete)
April Seed drill
Sep. w/mule or
May Hand July 239-624
Oct (machete) Deti.
systems. Peanut production is sold to "La Manicera" under the
same contract discussed above. The other three crops are sold to
middlemen who come with their trucks to purchase the output at
the farm gate or nearest road. Sometimes, pigeon peas are
transported by mules to be sold in the nearest market.
Short-cycle crop mixture systems on rainfed land
Bean-maize, bean-pigeon pea, and bean-pigeon pea-maize (Table
8) are the three most important crop mixtures found on
rainfed land They are grown only once a year with the exception
of bean-maize which is produced twice each year. The bean-pigeon
pea-maize crop mixture is mostly found on more remote farms in
the uplands. Farmers argue that under this system, if one crop
fails it is still possible to obtain some production from the
others; that is, this system guarantees them the possible'. of a
certain amount of food for their families.
Land preparation takes place in March for all crops. A
second crop of bean-maize requires land preparation in August.
For all systems, the land is prepared with oxen and plow or with
Planting is done with a machete, opening a small hole in the
soil and dropping in the seed. Seeding rates are similar in all
systems except that less bean seed is used in the bean-pigeon
Fertilizers and pesticides are not used in these systems.
Weeding is done by hand with a machete and, in the case of
bean-pigeon pea-maize, is a continuous activity carried out by
Table 8 Characteristics of short-cycle crop mixture systems on rainfed land in Las Cuevas watershed, Dominican Republic, 1982
Land Preparation Planting Fertilization Harvesting
Rate and Weedin Yield
Crop mixture Rotation Time Means Time Means (kg ha ) Pesticide Time Means Time (kg ha ) Marketing
March Oxen w/plow or March Hand Bean: None April Hand Bean: 290-653 Middlemen
Bean-maize Aug. hand (machete) Sep. (machete) 50-73 Oct. (machete) July; at farm gate
15-22 Maize: 218-580
Bean-maize March Oxen w/plow or April Hand Bean: None May Hand Bean: 181-725 Middlemen
hand (machete) (machete) 50-73 (machete) July at farm gate
P.Pea: P. Pea: 145-617
Bea n p- March Oxe, w/plo'- or April Hand Bean: None Continu- Hand Bean: 109-377 Home
Bea pigeon peahan (machete) (,,achete) 43-65 ously (machete) July consumption
P.Pea: P.Pea: 240-435
Maize: Maize: 196-363
all members of the family.
Yields vary among the three crop mixtures and from those
obtained on sole crop systems. Output of bean-maize and
bean-pigeon pea is sold to middlemen. The production from the
bean-pigeon pea-maize crop mixture is consumed at home.
This paper has described the small farming systems in Las
Cuevas watershed of the Dominican Republic. Several important
characteristics, some of them unique to this area, were found.
The role of crop associations in these farming systems was a
relevant finding. For example, 82% of the maize and 90% of the
pigeon peas are grown in association with other crops.
Furthermore, all output from the bean-pigeon pea-maize associ-
ation is devoted to home consumption.
Two systems of mutual help among the farmers were also
found. One consists of the exchange of bean seed between those
harvesting in July-August and those planting in September. The
former conserve the germination quality of the seed and obtain a
50% bonus, while the latter do not need .-;h for seed purchases.
The "convite" system is the means by whiL. farmers harvest their
bean crops without incurring labor expenses. Farmers are willing
to provide their labor because they receive the same help when
they harvest their own crops.
Peanut production, although not profitable, is carried out
as a means of obtaining cash from a loan to subsist during the
period when they do not have another feasible choice.
Although a relatively small amount of all the land in the
watershed is devoted to short-cycle crops, these systems produce
high rates of soil erosion that are unacceptable. Increasing
population pressures are likely to worsen this problem. The
importance of these systems to the farmers' diets precludes any
policy that would prohibit their future production. Perhaps the
problem could be alleviated by the development of improved
technology that would bring about increased production in the
uplands on a smaller land area.
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Dominican Republic with special applications for Las Cuevas
watershed. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press.
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